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Tales old envelopes tell

Some interesting items of Kootenay postal history sold this month in an online auction. Here are a few particularly noteworthy ones.

Cover mailed by Sam Henry of Nakusp, 1904

Sold for: $65

This registered cover was sent in 1904 by Sam Henry, Nakusp’s most prominent Chinese-Canadian citizen at the time, to “Darch and Hunter, Seedsman to the Canadian People.”

That’s how the London, Ontario mail-order business billed themselves, sounding more like nobility than a nursery. Curiously, the ink is different on the mailing address than the return address.

Sam Henry was in Nakusp by 1895 running a laundry and soon added small-scale farming to his business interests. In the year this envelope was mailed, he bought 161 acres on the waterfront to that was some of the most productive agricultural land on the Arrow Lakes.

Despite the widespread racism Chinese-Canadians faced in West Kootenay, Henry was a very successful farmer and highly respected in the community.

When he died in 1912, his funeral procession was among the largest and certainly the most memorable held in the village to that date. Many years later his remains were sent to China.

A decade after Henry’s death, the Buesnel brothers established the Bay View Dairy on his former farm. This later became the Spicer farm, which was partly flooded by the Hugh Keenleyside dam.

Censored Slocan cover piece, S. Miyasaki cover piece

Sold for: $70

These two items both have to do with West Kootenay’s Japanese-Canadian history. The top one is from a letter that, like all mail to and from internees, passed through a censor. The remaining scrap bears a late 1942 Slocan postmark, but unfortunately the recipient’s name has been cut off.

The second item is a partial cover mailed by Setsuzo Miyasaki of Magna Bay in 1941 to Remington Rand Ltd. of Vancouver. Miyasaki is a little known but important figure in Salmo’s Japanese-Canadian history, a story I will one day write about in earnest.

The Kootenay Shingle Co. hired a number of Chinese-Canadian and Japanese-Canadians to work in its Salmo mill in 1905. Their arrival sparked a near-riot by the local white population, requiring the intervention of the BC Provincial Police — a particularly low point in local history.

Miyasaki arrived about five years later, acting as a foreman and de facto community leader. While the mill crews turned over regularly, he and his wife and children were a constant presence in Salmo at least into the mid-1920s.

I don’t know when they moved to Magna Bay, on Shuswap Lake, but it spared them the indignity of being interned, which would likely have been the case had they remained in Salmo. A handful of Japanese-Canadian men working for Frank Rotter’s logging operation at Salmo in 1942 were interned elsewhere in West Kootenay.

I’ve long puzzled over why Salmo was not one of the internment camps, since it was a lot like other depressed Kootenay mining towns used for that purpose. My best guess is that it was considered too close to the Trail smelter, which was a restricted area.

Miyasaki died in Kamloops in 1963.

Returned Kootenai Water Supply cover

Sold for: $105

This registered cover, mailed from Victoria by the registrar of joint stock companies in 1911, was addressed to the Kootenai Water Supply Co. of Waneta and kicked around some, judging by the eight postmarks on front and back.

After initially being sent from Victoria on May 30, it showed up in Nelson on June 11, where it waited a few days, then was returned to sender. It was mailed to Waneta a second time on June 16, and finally reached its intended destination on July 2. No one claimed it after 11 days, so it was sent back again.

Although the enclosed letter wasn’t included with this lot, it would have said something to the effect of “You’ve failed to file your annual report for several years, so we’re about to kick you off the corporate register.”

The Kootenai Water Supply Co. was a sister company to the Kootenai Hydraulic Mining Co., which set up shop at Waneta in 1892-93. (And in fact may have been responsible for naming Waneta, but the jury’s still out on that one.) Both were registered in Rochester, NY.

Kootenai Water built a wing dam on Seven Mile Creek in the Pend d’Oreille to power Kootenay Hydraulic’s sluicing operation. But in 1896, the hydro plant shut down and Kootenai Water went into receivership, leaving many angry creditors who alleged they were victims of fraud and secured a court judgement.

Further legal troubles followed in 1899 as shareholders demanded an investigation into what Kootenay Hydraulic spent their money on. It’s another story I intend to write in full detail someday.

While the mining operation never lived up to expectations, it did leave behind some gorgeous stock certificates and wayward letters like this one.

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